In a recent sermon, mega church pastor and evangelical Christian leader, Andy Stanley said, “We want churches to be large enough so that there are enough middle schoolers and high schoolers that we don't have one youth group with middle school and high school together. We want there to be so many adults that there will be so many middle school and high school kids that we can have two separate environments."
He went on to explain, “When I hear adults say, ‘I don’t like a big church. I like about 200. I wanna be able to know everybody.’ I say, 'You are so stinkin’ selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids, anybody else’s kids. If you don’t go to a church large enough, where you can have enough middle-schoolers and high-schoolers so they can have small groups and grow up in the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big ol’ church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people, and grow up and love the local church. Instead, what you do…you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church, and then they go off to college, and you pray there’ll be a church in their college town that they connect with, and guess what: all those churches are big, the kind of church you don’t like. Don’t attend a church that teaches your children to hate church.'”
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit two things:
1. I did not listen to the entirety of Andy's message. Perhaps there is a context that makes these quotes somehow less offensive.
2. Andy since Tweeted the following apology,
The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend's message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.— AndyStanley (@AndyStanley) March 4, 2016
Nevertheless, Andy's words are out there.
As a youth worker at a non-mega church, I'll admit I had a visceral reaction to Andy's words, especially since I'm also a new mom. And since I recently chose to have my daughter baptized in the non-mega church Lutheran context in which I serve, I can only conclude I'm one of those parents who are “so stinkin' selfish” that Andy's referring to.
If that's the case, then I'll remain an unashamedly selfish parent.
I'll be a selfish parent who chooses to bring my daughter to a congregation that is small enough for her to be known – not just by her peers but by adults who care for her, love her, and nurture her faith. As more and more research sheds light on the importance of multiple adults pouring into a single child, I'll prioritize those connections over separate middle school and high school youth groups any day of the week.
I'll be a selfish parent who willingly brings my daughter to a congregation where she's welcome – not just in the building – but in worship. After all, I want my daughter to learn how to worship by worshiping alongside people who are 5, 10, 50, and 90 years older than she is. I want her to see the beauty that's inherently part of intergenerational environments in which people are challenged to learn and grow alongside people of all ages. I want my daughter to learn how to talk to people who are, in all sorts of beautiful ways, different than her. I want my daughter to see those differences not as barriers to relationships but as valuable components of healthy friendships.
I'll be a selfish parent who willingly chooses to be part of a congregation where my daughter is not just welcome in worship, but encouraged to serve in worship. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” One of the beauties of smaller churches is that we rely on the gifts of young people to function. Without them, our church would lack assisting ministers, musicians, and Bible study leaders. What's more, it's often by serving in these ways that teens MOST grow in their faith in lasting, consequential ways. Knowing this, as a youth pastor and parent, I want my daughter to grow up in a congregation where she's encouraged to discover and use her gifts to glorify and honor God, not only among people her own age but among the body of Christ as a whole.
I'll be a selfish parent who refuses to let my daughter buy into the myth of consumerism that's so pervasive within the church. As a youth pastor and parent, I want to teach my daughter that the function of the church isn't to serve HER; It's to serve the world. I want my daughter to learn that the best question to ask about church isn't, “How are my needs being met?” but rather “How am I meeting the needs of others?” I want my daughter to know that going to church isn't about being entertained, it's about glorifying God in worship.
I'll be a selfish parent who refuses to drive 30 minutes to the nearest mega church and instead chooses to be part of a smaller congregation that's located a mile from our house and that's actively involved in serving the community in which we live.
I'll be a selfish parent who works tirelessly to connect my daughter not just to our congregation's youth ministry, but to our congregation. After all, I know that teens who are connected to a CONGREGATION (and not just it's youth ministry) are much more likely to develop a lasting, consequential faith.
As a youth pastor, I actually wish Andy was right. I wish that all it took for a teen to develop a lifelong lasting faith was for them to be involved in a middle school and high school youth ministry. But while youth ministry can have a tremendous impact on the faith formation of teens, the truth is, it's not that simple.
Youth group kids don't necessarily understand the basics of our faith. For example, my own research, published in The Jesus Gap, found that 58% of students either think it's possible or don't know if it's possible to be a Christian without believing in Jesus.
Sticky Faith estimates that “40-50% of kids who are connected to a youth group when they graduate high school will fail to stick with their faith in college.”
And the National Study of Youth and Religion found that “You get what you are.”
In other words, the faith of our kids looks very much like OUR faith.
And if that's the case, then not only will I unashamedly be a selfish parent, but I'll encourage the parents I work with to be selfish as well.